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First-place Sharks look to increase division edge tonight as they host Capitals

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(SAN JOSE) -- The unlikely climb into first place in the Pacific Division still has left the San Jose Sharks in a tenuous position, but the good news is that tonight's opponent at the SAP Center -- the Washington Capitals -- haven't been very good in Northern California historically.

The Sharks' 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday gave San Jose a two-point lead in the Pacific, even though the Ducks have a game in hand. But it still represents a big climb back from the 10-point gap that had existed between the two teams for most of 2014.

With 11 games left to play for San Jose, it's getting to be a sprint for the best record in the Western Conference, too. The Sharks trail the St. Louis Blues by two points, although the Central Division leaders also have a game in hand.

San Jose dropped a golden opportunity on Tuesday night, losing at home to the lowly Florida Panthers, 3-2. It was another one of those games where the Sharks peppered the opponent's goaltender to no avail, while their own goalie had a bad night.

(Florida's Roberto Luongo made 52 saves, while San Jose's Antti Niemi gave up three goals on only 24 shots.)

For the record, San Jose (46-18-7) lost three games this year to the Buffalo Sabres and the Panthers, currently the two worst teams in the Eastern Conference. That's six points the Sharks ought to have had in their back pockets right now.

Tonight, San Jose hosts the Washington Capitals (33-27-11), a team that hasn't won on the road against the Sharks since October 1993. If the Pacific Division leaders can't win this one, it will be another curiosity to ponder if they don't end up in first place in a few weeks when the season ends.

San Jose beat Washington on the road in mid-January, winning in the overtime shootout. The Capitals still have a potent offense, with the fifth-most goals scored in the East, but they've also given up the fifth-most goals in their conference -- and it adds up to a minus-six goal differential on the season.

The Caps are two points out of the last playoff spot out East, so they'll be gunning for the Sharks tonight.

Game time is 7:30 p.m.

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